Distribution center, community leaders mark 20-year anniversary

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 21, 2006

Associates, their families and invited guests gathered atWal-Mart Distribution Center 6011 Wednesday to celebrate 20 yearsof success in Brookhaven.

“This is, indeed, a significant event,” said Mayor BobMassengill, a featured speaker. “You’re a great corporate citizenand you are vital to this community.”

Massengill cited the distribution center’s “tremendous” impacton the economy on the city, county and surrounding area and thenumber of jobs it brought to the community. The distribution centerhas 890 full-time associates and 51 managers.

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“I look forward to having this dynamic distribution center aspart of our community for years to come,” Massengill said.

Company executives reminisced on the facility’s past, praisedtheir employees and promoted their community involvement during thepast two decades.

Former General Manager Lou Schuler, who operated the center from1990 to 1992, said it was dead last in performance and efficiencyin 1990. It was a designation the employees resolved to correct,and by the next year the center earned the 1991 Wal-Mart RisingStar Award for most improved company facility.

“The turnaround I saw was that instead of (different)departments, they all bonded together to become a team – to becomeone – and that has not changed,” Schuler said.

Former Mayor Harold Samuels, one of several people influentialin bringing the distribution center to Brookhaven, was not aplanned speaker, but his presence in the audience prompted GeneralManager Brent Hinton to ask him for a few words.

“It is great that I could live long enough to see this,” Samuelssaid.

Samuels said it was a joint effort between the city, county andBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce that brought thefacility here, but it was not an easy deal.

Samuels, Bill Sones, the late District One Supervisor CliffGivens, the late John “Dub” Sproles and several others traveled toWal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., in 1985 and “had a boxlunch at Sam Walton’s house” while negotiating for the facility,the former mayor said.

It was a last-minute effort by Chamber Executive DirectorCharlie Ford and businessman the late Don Estes that made the offerpossible, however.

Local officials had 40 acres of property for the facility, butWal-Mart needed 80. Brookhavenite Ward Fender had propertyadjoining the proposed site, but the land had been in his familyfor more than a century and he did not want to release it, saidpresent Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes, Don Estes’ widow.

The two men pleaded with Fender the day before the trip toBentonville and he reluctantly agreed to provide the needed 40acres when Estes and Ford told him about the number of jobs thefacility would bring to the area, she said.

The trip secured a distribution center that shipped its firstmerchandise on Sept. 12, 1986. The facility expanded in 1987,adding 300,000 square feet, and became a dual sort center, whichdoubled shipping capacity, in 1988.

The center now services 69 stores stores primarily inMississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas.

The transportation division averages more than 20 million roadmiles per year from the Brookhaven facility alone on 160 trucks.Wal-Mart’s private fleet was named “Safest Fleet in the Nation” bythe American Trucking Association seven of the last eight years,according to company statistics.